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Introducing Bahrain

Bahrain is defined by its relationship with water. Take the country’s name: ‘Two Seas’ in Arabic, the focus is not the island’s minimal landmass, but the water that laps its shores. So shallow is the water lapping Bahrain’s coastline that the inhabitants regularly ‘reclaim’ pieces of land, filling in the gaps between sand bars, as if winning back lost territory. The new Bahrain Financial Harbour of Manama is currently rising like Neptune from such reclaimed land, and its proud buildings, such as the Dual Towers, appear to be holding back the sea. Of course land reclamation in the Gulf has become the fashion. Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Doha and Muscat all have ambitious projects involving a tamed sea in a human landscape. Only Bahrain, however, can claim a truly integral connection between the two: the sweet-water springs that bubble off-shore helped bring about 4000 years of settlement, the layers of which are exposed in rich archaeological sites around the island. The springs also encouraged the most lustrous of pearls – the trade in which helped build the island’s early fortunes.

Like an oyster, Bahrain’s rough exterior takes some prising open, but it is worth the effort. From the excellent National Museum in Manama and the traditional houses of Muharraq to the extraordinary burial mounds at Sar, there are many fine sites to visit. For more modern pearls, there’s the spectacular Bahrain World Trade Centre, King Fahd Causeway and the new islands project at the southern tip. Presumably the engineers have factored in the projected effects of global warming or the sea may yet have the last laugh.

Bahrain has been rocked by demonstrations in 2011 and 2012, with protesters demanding political freedom and equality for the Shia majority in the country. The situation is currently calm and there are no travel warnings in place.